Raise a glass of milk to New Mexico’s dairy industry. The state has close to 150 dairies with the largest average herd size in the nation. According to New Mexico State University, the average dairy produces about 44 million pounds of milk per year, bringing approximately $5.8 million to the state’s economy. That explains why New Mexico is a national leader, ranking ninth in the country for milk production and fifth for cheese production.
Part of that success can be attributed to dairy cooperative, Select Milk.
Milking a New Idea
In 1994, 99 family dairy farmers from New Mexico, Texas and the Midwest decided to form their own dairy cooperative and called it Select Milk. They believed that healthy animals produce better milk. Select Milk families must participate in the National Milk Federation’s Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program to make sure animals are treated correctly and managed properly. The flagship farm, Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana, goes beyond this program and uses the waste produced as an energy source. Raised on higher quality of milk and better living for the animals, Select Milk now produces 7 billion pounds of milk annually and is the fifth- largest dairy cooperative in the country.
Select Milk has eight processing plants across the country, and its brands include Core Power, Fairlife, Continental Dairy and Fair Oak Farms. Select Milk created Fairlife milk distributed by the Minute Maid division of Coca-Cola, through a unique cold filtration process that delivers 50 percent more protein, 30 percent less sugar and 50 percent more calcium than a traditional glass of milk. By reimagining milk processing, Select Milk has created nutritious milk without supplementing with additives.
New Mexico’s dairy industry continues to expand through innovation. Although the state is now in the top five cheese-producing states, that wasn’t always the case. With more milk produced than it could process, New Mexico shipped milk to California, Florida, Idaho and the Midwest. But dairy cooperatives soon realized they could benefit by having a local processing plant, so in 2004, Select Milk, Dairy Farmers of America and Greater Southwest Agency joined forces with Glanbia, a global powerhouse in producing whey protein, to form Southwest Cheese in Clovis.
In 2006, Southwest Cheese’s processing plant opened. It has since undergone two expansions, adding a total of 180,000 square feet to the original plant. The state-of-the-art facility includes a dairy wastewater treatment process that reduces waste by up to 90 percent. In addition, the processing plant is powered by natural gas and reuses methane for energy, making it efficient and clean.
But it’s not just about the environment. Southwest Cheese sells 40-pound and 640-pound blocks of cheese to some of the best national and international companies for further processing and packaging. The company employs 400 people and produces 450 million pounds of cheese by using exceptional facilities and the freshest milk available.
Of course, Southwest Cheese is not the first cheese company to deliver to international customers. Leprino Foods in Roswell, the world’s largest producer of mozzarella, cleared the path for the American cheese industry overseas. With the introduction of a quick-frozen process in 1979, Leprino Foods now sells their mozzarella to over 40 countries around the world without losing quality or performance. Their famous mozzarella can be found at restaurants, pizzerias and food distributors across the globe.
A new way of thinking about dairy ensures that the industry in New Mexico not only remains competitive but leads the way in innovation.